INDIANAPOLIS – It took more than 60 days for the state to respond to the worst HIV outbreak in state history. During that time, HIV cases jumped from 10 to 79 and a Hoosier community was the epicenter of an drug crisis facing the state.
Since then, the state has ignored records requests by the Indiana Democratic Party and has failed to disclose why the governor took a late-to-the-game approach at tackling a state health crisis.
“When Indiana faced one of the worst public health crises in modern history, state government failed to act on time. The result – more lives were forever altered and Scott County was unfairly judged across the state and nation,” said John Zody, Chairman. “But this was the strategy of the Pence-Holcomb Administration – act only when there’s a crisis. With the health and well-being of Hoosiers on the line, Indiana deserves a governor who will act the moment they are needed. This administration proved they fall short.”
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: STATE’S LATE-TO-THE-GAME RESPONSE TO HIV OUTBREAK
January 2015: There Were 7 Known HIV-Positive Patients In Scott County, IN. “HIV ‘epidemic’ fueled by needle-sharing opiate addicts has infected at least 72 people in one southern Indiana county as Gov. Mike Pence plans to declare a public health emergency in that community on Thursday. The outbreak’s swift acceleration in Scott County — beginning with seven known HIV-positive patients in late January — has prompted state officials to ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to deploy investigators to test residents and to help control further spread of the virus, Pence said. CDC staff arrived on Monday and ‘traveled to the community … an epidemic ‘aid team.’ I met with them late Monday,’ Pence told reporters in Scottsburg, the county seat. ‘And they informed me that they had confirmed that we have an epidemic in Scott County.’” [NBC News,
Goshen News: “Clark County Medical Director Dr. Kevin Burke, Who Diagnosed The First HIV Case In The Current Epidemic, Said Pence Is Wrong.” “Clark County Medical Director Dr. Kevin Burke, who diagnosed the first HIV case in the current epidemic, said Pence is wrong. ‘The studies show that with needle exchange programs, you increase the probability that someone will go into a drug rehabilitation program,’ Burke said. ‘You don’t increase IV drug abuse. And you save the state millions and millions of dollars by preventing the spread of HIV infection.’” [Goshen News, 4/17/15]
Scott County Family Doctor Shane Avery: “If The Indiana General Assembly And Gov. Mike Pence Fail To Act, God Have Mercy On Us.” “Dr. Shane Avery, a Scott County family doctor, urged the committee to address the problem with a sustained effort – not short-term – and also said HIV testing needs to be done in additional counties, because it will eventually spread. ‘If the Indiana General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence fail to act, God have mercy on us,’ he said.” [Journal Gazette, 4/21/15]
Dr. Shane Avery: “It Is [Pence’s] Refusal To Address This Situation That Will Result In Indiana’s Most Historic Failure In Public Health.” “An Indiana doctor working in the middle of the state’s HIV epidemic says the virus has likely expanded beyond the outbreak’s epicenter, after being transmitted by infected drug users and commercial sex workers… [Dr. Shane] Avery harshly criticized Pence’s stated ‘longstanding’ opposition to needle exchange programs and the governor’s threat to veto legislation that would expand it outside Scott County. ‘It is the governor’s refusal to address this situation that will result in Indiana’s most historic failure in public health,’ Avery said.” [CNHI, 4/20/15]
Indiana University’s Rural Center For AIDS/STD Prevention Co-Director Beth Meyerson: “[Pence’s] Solution Is Not Based On Public Health Science.” “The Robert Wood Johnson annual County Health Rankings, released earlier this week, placed Scott County last in the state on health outcomes. Many services beyond the ones the governor has allocated will be needed to have an impact, said Beth Meyerson, co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at Indiana University. Nor will a 30-day needle exchange program do much good. ‘There’s zero evidence to support the governor’s proposition. His solution is not based on public health science,’ Meyerson said. ‘I appreciate the governor’s flexibility, but it’s not even close to being an appropriate response.’” [Indy Star, 3/26/15]